Every now and again something happens in the news that gives you supreme hope in the future of our species and makes you feel good about what you do each day. With the Transit of Venus a few weeks back, I got thinking about the important work that we do as IT and business professionals, not only for our employers and customers, but also for the betterment of our civilization. More than the promises of decreased costs or increased revenues how might Cloud Services and mobile access to that data improve our world? To better understand the connection, I need to say more about the celestial event.
In 1716, Edmund Halley of Halley’s Comet fame, worked out a way to measure the size of our solar system using trigonometry. Halley devised an experiment that involved the Transit of Venus, but there was one catch. He needed observers from all over the planet to time their observations. Our current communications systems and cloud applications really could have come in handy back then! Worse yet, Halley lived in an era of colonialism. Powers in Europe didn’t get along with each other, much less work together on a scientific experiment. Pressed by scientific communities across Europe, the remarkable experiment was carried out by a global team of explorers and colonial powers. Ultimately the experiment succeeded, and the crucial ~93 million miles between the earth and sun was known for the first time.
The tools for this early collaboration were ships, charts, and identically manufactured instruments. Data collection took months. These days, our tools for collaboration include a reliable and ubiquitous network and the access to analyze data from anywhere in the world. Data collection and response is expected real-time. One thing has not changed, tough. Not just reduced cost and improved customer experience are at stake! Each optimized business process also improves our sustainability as a planet and civilization. Each problem we can solve in the field with the use of “Big Data” analytics and access to a smartphone or tablet propels our species forward and makes us better as a whole.
By working as business leaders to increase efficiencies with technology, we work to move our species up the Class chain as defined by Dr. Michio Kaku, author of Physics of the Impossible. Dr. Kaku describes civilizations as having different levels. Class 1 civilizations have fully harnessed the power of a planet. Tellingly, he describes our civilization as Class 0 as we have largely only harnessed the power of dead plants in fossil fuels.
Like Kaku, I see humanity taking promising steps today in our evolution in the technology we deploy. For example, more data is flowing freely to more places than ever before. “Communications everywhere” is driving that dispersal. The access to data is not only enabling scientists to work together to unlock earth’s potential, but also allowing us to better understand one another from one end of the planet to the other.
“Cloud’ infrastructures are also not only enabling but actually encouraging widespread collaboration. Big data mined from the cloud is giving us analytics to more precisely regulate and sustainably use earth’s precious resources. Examples abound, from smart grid power monitoring to rural irrigation systems that precisely track and manage plant hydration apparatuses. Kaku predicted in 2008 that we would become a Class 1 civilization in about 100 years. I believe ubiquitous data collection and access will make it possible.
Who knows, in another 250 years someone may be blogging about a technological breakthrough enabled by communications technology from our era. I can hear them now explaining how technology facilitated that next great leap forward. I am comforted by thinking about the explorers who spoke different tongues setting up Halley’s equipment all over the world at the same time to measure the Transit of Venus and unlock a vital secret of our solar system. As I thought about it all, and watched the 2012 Venus Transit through protective glasses, I squinted at the spectacle and couldn’t help but smile.